Scrum 101 – First Thoughts

We’ve been working with Scrum for a few month now and so far it has been a very interesting few months. For all of you who don’t know what Scrum is, here’s the gist:

Scrum is what you might best describe as a framework for agile developing. The reason why I’d call it framework is because it doesn’t so much tell you how to do things, but it provides a set of rules and roles that surround the actual developing. The key of Scrum is the team itself, which is self-organizing. Development cycles are usually two to four weeks. At the beginning of each cycle or „sprint“ the team commits to deliver a certain set of user stories, then works on these stories and holds a sprint demo at the end of each cycle to present their results to whoever is interested.

There’s tons of information about Scrum on the internet, so if you want to know more, you can either ask me or use your favorite search engine.

What I learned in these past months is that there are a few key things that you and your team need for Scrum to work. One of them is transparency. The other one is discipline. If one of them is missing, you might just be heavily screwed.

When I said transparency, I could have just as well said communication. It sounds so clichée, but communication really is the key. I still like transparency better because it sums up nicely what Scrum is really about and good communication is the way to reach transparency. I don’t think you can have one without the other. Or, okay, you can communicate without actually being transparent. However, I don’t see how you get transparency without communication.

When you start working in a self-organizing team, stuff gets lost. It just happens. All the time. We’ve identified communication (or the lack thereof) as one of our key problems after the first sprint and we’re still working on improving ourselves. It’s surprisingly hard.

Which leads right to the other thing: discipline. It sounds so school-masterly, but it’s true. I’m not talking military drill discipline here, just a healthy dose of get-your-crap-together. Because truth is, if you don’t, the rest of the team will suffer for it. The lack of a team lead means that the team is responsible for what they do. There’s no single person in charge or responsible.

To be honest, it is kind of scary at times. Self-organizing sounds so cool in theory and it is kind of cool in practice. It has its drawbacks though. When there’s nobody to tell you what to do, there’s also nobody to tell you what not to do, what better to do or how to do what you do. The team has to figure out how to finish their goal and often that’s not as easy as it sounds.

When I talk about discipline in Scrum I’m talking about doing the best you can to get your tasks done. But more than that, I expect you to always think about what needs to be done to get everything delivered with the best quality possible. I expect you to not ignore any problems in hopes that they go away if we don’t talk about it. I expect you to think outside of the borders of the taskboard. Also, in times of increased crankiness, I expect you to suck up and be nice. We all have bad days.

Discipline doesn’t mean working non-stop cranking out code. It also doesn’t mean sticking to fixed rules and doing everything by textbook. And it should never ever mean not having fun.

Working in a self-organized team requires communication, transparency and discipline, because as a team member I depend on the rest of the team. In short: I need to trust my team to be able to work effectively. So I’d like to add trust as another key word for Scrum teams, but that’s a story for another post.

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